The forgotten civic republican tradition

Initially, I was going to title this post "Liberalism works," which would somewhat accurately describe the argument/data I am going to present below. However, this would not be entirely accurate. Rather, I am going to present a bunch of statistics showing where the various states rank on a bunch of "quality of life" indicators and demonstrate what was perhaps the most important philosophical consideration undergirding this nation - that of republican (most definetly republican with a small "r") virtue, or alternatively civic republicanism.

Many people today assume that free-market liberalism was the basis of this country and its revolution. But this is inaccurate. It was not that the so-called founding fathers were hostile to capitalism, because they weren't. It was that they thought liberty and republicanism were more important, and they were best advanced through the practice of "civic virtue" and a concern for the commonweal (and philosophy that today would be known as "good governmentalism") This philosophy's cultural hearth was New England, and as the following data will clearly show, its influence is still strongly felt. Simply put, those regions of the country that adhere most firmly to this tradition - be they New England proper, or what historians refer to as the Greater New England pale of settlement - have the highest standard of living and quality of life. In competition with this New England tradition (which also can be said to include the Pennsylvania Quaker tradition as well) were, roughly speaking to other strains: a hierarchical, quasi-aristocratic deep south "planterocracy," whose cultural hearth was South Carolina, and a middle colonies/upper south "populist" tradition most clearly manifested in the figure of Andrew Jackson. Arguably, there are other traditions that have developed over time: particularly in California and in "greater Utah" (i.e. Mormon culture) - although it needs to be said that these traditions have roots in parts of the various strains of the Atlantic seaboard political traditions.

Broadly speaking, these competing "founding" ideologies represent one of perhaps four major historical currents* that animate contemporary American politics, but it is this current about which the least is said, and arguably, it is this tradition that tells us the most about contemporary American politics.

* - the other three include: 1) the urban/rural (or, more precisely, the urban, inner suburb/rural, exurb) divide, 2) the African American political/cultural tradition and the politics of race, 3) the politics of anti-federalism, or anti-statism.

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Values Talk Hurting Republicans?

In the days following the election, Tom Schaller wrote:I'd like to suggest that we were handed a gift this week by the Republicans, and it came specifically from the Ralph Reed wing of the party.

Reed, you see, wanted to not merely deliver the social conservatives' "values" votes this year, but to ensure that their pivotal role be made noted and respected -- broadcast and trumpeted, loudly and quite publicly. They didn't want to just win; they want credit and plaudits for scoring the decisive touchdown.

Awesome. The fact that this election - the first post-9/11 election, with a war in Iraq abroad and a changing economic situation at home - will be remembered by the we-need-it-simplified media as the "values" election, is Reed's great gift to us.

Why? Because I suspect that right now that the Wall Street wing, and the small business wing, and the defense industry wing, and the tax reform wings of the party are shuddering at the thought that Americans are being told that Bush got to 51 percent based on "values" voting.

When I first read this I was skeptical, since I did not believe the nation had a low enough opinion of the Christian right for the "values voters" talk to backfire. However, a new CBS / New York Times poll suggests that the nation, especially independents, has indeed recoiled in horror at the sight of the new "values" coalition: CBS News/New York Times Poll. Nov. 18-21, 2004. N=885 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3 (for all adults). "What worries you more: public officials who don't pay enough attention to religion and religious leaders, or public officials who are too close to religion and religious leaders?"
      Not Enough  Too Close  Unsure
Reps	  53	     30        17
Dems	  25	     65        10
Inds	  29	     53        18

All
11/04	  35	     51        14
11/03	  50	     34        16
That is a huge national shift of thirty-two points in one year. My hunch is that most of the shift occurred since the election, and that all this post-election talk about "values voters" winning the election for Bush is backfiring against the Christian right. The extremist attempt to bring down Specter probably did not help either. If we can just get Falwell as the permanent host on Crossfire and Dobson as a permanent commentator on ABC's "This Week," we might just have a full-blown backlash on our hands.

Eureka! Or How To Break the Republican Majority Coalition

This is the companion ideological piece to the organization / activism piece I wrote two weeks ago, Ding!.

I believe it is possible to break the majority Republican coalition, which is primarily an ideological coalition of conservatives against liberals, and create a majority Democratic coalition that will last for at least two or three decades, by liberalizing / progressivizing the 10-15% of the population that is currently primarily reform minded and non-ideological (and thus has a strong tendency to support major third-party efforts). While it is currently non-ideological, this segment of the population, which has existed in large numbers since at least the 1880's, has an outlook on politics that is far more closely allied with liberalism than conservatism because of its emphasis on reform. It is, to put it one way, latently liberal. This segment of the electorate can be swung toward the liberal camp, thus breaking the Republican majority coalition, if the pragmatic, non-dogmatic, reformer, anti-status quo, entrepreneurial aspects of liberalism are foregrounded and turned into a national narrative and platform. Pulling this off will also require dismantling the Great Backlash narrative of oppressive liberal elites, and replacing it with a narrative about conservatism being a force that relies on pure theory, faith-based worldviews, and that supports status-quo institutions such as corporations and the media.

Currently, the significant majority (60-70%) of the non-ideological "reformer" segment of the population, which has a tendency to vote in blocks, is allied with the Republican coalition. In fact, it was this addition to the Republican coalition that led to their 1994 sweep to power, and it remains the aspect of the Republican coalition that gives them their national slim majority (50-52% of the electorate). Primarily, this alliance is a result of the Great Backlash narrative, which identifies liberalism as an oppressive, status quo force in control of academia, the media, the entertainment industry, and the judiciary. However, unlike the conservative and evangelic / born again segments of the coalition that allies itself against liberalism on ideological grounds, the non-ideological element allies itself against liberalism not because of what liberalism stands for, but because liberals are viewed as powerful, anti-reform "insiders." It opposes liberalism not because of left / center / right reasons, but because of insider / outsider reasons. Best of all, because liberalism is a reformer ideology, liberals have the potential to swing this group more or less permanently, which is something that conservatism have never been able to do.

In other words, we win, both short term and long term, with a reformer platform and a national narrative that pits liberalism as a reformer ideology against a status-quo conservative ideology. This is how we grow liberalism and finally push the liberal electoral coalition first postulated by the McGovern campaign into power. Obviously, this is a big thesis. I will try to explain it after the jump.

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The Outline of A Case for Aggressive, Interventionist Liberalism

The recent discussion in the blogosphere about hawkish liberalism, sparked by Peter Beinart's editorial in The New Republic on the subject, A Fighting Faith, has interested me greatly. I am not a hawk; at least I do not think I am. I do, however, consider myself an interventionist, and I believe that the American left does in fact need to become more openly interventionist. Let me run down a list of recent instances when I supported military action:

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Using the Language of Our Oppressors

I have news for everyone: it is impossible for liberals and Democrats to win Middle America. No matter where our candidate is from, and no matter how we talk values, our victory there is impossible. This is because Middle America, as it is presently conceived, exists purely as a rhetorical creation of conservatives. It is a talking point, a frame, a sound-bite, a form of spin That we are even trying to win Middle America shows just how thoroughly we have been beaten.

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